Last night I was thinking about how little people change. By which I mean that I was thinking that people in general change very little, as opposed to thinking about whether midgets have the ability to transmogrify. Although when you think about it, that would be a pretty cool sidekick-level superpower to have: “Mini-Metamorph: Able to transform into any compact item at will!”
Wow. It didn’t take me long to get off track today, did it?
Anyway, biking has definitely changed me during the ten-plus years I’ve been riding. Both physically and mentally. Today I’m going to talk about the physical part. Monday, I’ll talk about how biking has changed me mentally.
Unless I forget or change my mind.
First Change: My Ring Finger
Back when I was first mountain biking — maybe just a year or so into it — one of my riding group’s favorite yardsticks was the Frank time trial: how fast could you do the seven mile mountain bike trail? The first time I tried doing it for time, I was as nervous as I ever have been for any race. After all, since Frank has a lot of climbing and a technical descent, your time said a lot about what kind of mountain biker you are.
I took the downhill what I like to call “aggressively,” and what my friends would call “spastically and out of control.” In a banked chute toward the end of the ride I picked a bad line and supermanned off my bike, landing with all my weight on my hands. That hurt.
I was so intent on finishing with a good time, though, that I didn’t even worry about my left hand, which I otherwise probably would have made all kinds of whiney noises about. Instead, I got back on my bike and finished the loop. I remember getting a 1:06, which was respectable for a new rider — I think the fast guys were doing it eight minutes faster.
When I got back to work, I thought about calling a doctor, because the tip of my ring finger seemed to be pointing at an odd angle: up at a 30-degree angle. Then I decided not to bother. It continues to point at that weird angle even today. I think my typing has improved because of it.
Most Bothersome, Persistently Painful Change: My Right Shoulder
Whenever my friends and I go to Moab, you can bet that one of the rides we’ll do is a Reverse Porcupine. This simply means that we ride part of the famous Porcupine Rim, but we ride up the part most people come down. This section of trail ridden in this way is full of difficult moves, and provides an excellent opportunity for technically skilled riders to show off their talents…and for technically unskilled riders to fall a lot.
Guess which category I belong in?
Maybe seven years ago, I was trying one of what I thought was the safest of these moves: do a slow-mo 120-degree left turn around a scrub oak, thread the needle between two tight rocks, and then wheelie up a ledge. I didn’t expect to make it, but I wasn’t scared of trying.
Then, at almost exactly zero miles per hour, as I pivoted around the scrub oak, I lost it. The sand kept me from getting out of my pedals in time and I fell over heavily on my right side, sending the combined force of my weight and falling momentum through my outstretched right hand and up my arm.
The screams were incredible.
I had dislocated my shoulder for the first time, and I can promise you the first time is the worst. And that is where what is now known as the “Elden Wail” was first heard.
After I was able to stop screaming — yes, screaming — I walked my bike (I couldn’t ride with a dislocated shoulder and I didn’t know how to set it back then) back to my car and drove the three hours home to go to the hospital, where the emergency room doctor put my shoulder back where it belongs.
My shoulder now pops out quite easily, thank you, and while it still hurts each time, I now know what to do. But I can’t sleep on my right side, I can’t throw, I can’t rotate my right arm in certain ways or lift it very high, and I always know when it’s going to rain.
And as an aside, I think it’s a testament of my friends’ dedication to their craft — as well as their quality as human beings — that nobody volunteered to go back with me. Hey, at least I know where I stand.
Most Visible Change: My Lip
I’ve talked about this wreck before, but essentially I wiped out on one of my favorite trails (Dry Canyon, coming down off Frank) one day for no apparent reason. I tore my lip all the way to just below my nose. I guess it says something about me that when the doctor gave me suggestions on steps I could follow to minimize the visibility of the scar — as well as a recommendation for a plastic surgeon who could essentially make it disappear — I brushed it off.
So now I have a nice, white scar that is always visible — increasingly so with every day I skip shaving. I sometimes wish my wreck would have a more interesting story behind it, but at least I got it while doing what I love best. And by "what I love best," I am referring to biking, not wrecking and sliding on my face. I just want to be clear on that point.
The only really unfortunate thing about this scar is that it totally screws up my goatee. I used to be able to grow one of the nicest goatees you had ever seen — when combined with my sinister-looking eyebrows, this beard made me look intense, as well as evil. Complete strangers would stop and comment on how evil I looked. "Hey, fat dude on a bike, you look full-on wicked evil!" they would say.
Now, however, the scar breaks up the beard and makes it look asymmetrical. Alas.
Best Change: My Legs
I sometimes like to imagine the me from the present challenging the me from the past to a bike race. Even though I weigh about ten pounds more than I did when I first started riding, I am absolutely confident I could kick my own past tense self’s butt. "Who is that fast, fat guy with the scar on his lip?" the me from the past would ask.
The thing is, riding a bike for ten years or so changes your legs. Even at my fattest and most out of shape, I could — with total confidence — challenge some generally ultra-fit non-cyclist to a bike race and utterly humiliate him. Or her, I guess, except I’m married and even before I was married was not the kind of person who would casually challenge women to sports contests. Mercy, I am a rambling fool today.
Anyway, this base of leg fitness stays with you. Once or twice, I’ve stopped biking during the winter and picked it up again in the spring. Sure, you hurt at first, but it’s nothing like starting over.
I don’t know: maybe if I stopped riding for a full year, that magical leg strength would vanish, but I prefer to think instead that by biking all these years, my legs are now fundamentally and permanently different from what they were before.
And that change — to me — easily makes all the other changes worth it. Because those physical changes are the entry fee for the mental changes — which I will, as I’ve mentioned, talk about Monday, and which are not, in spite of today’s post, absentmindedness and a tendency to ramble.
We’re Not So Different, You and I
I doubt that any cyclist — especially of the mountain biking variety — has ridden for more than a year or two without getting some sort of permanent personal souvenir (which is my overwrought way of saying "injury"). But we’re all willing to live with the inevitability.
So, two questions for you: what have you got to show for your years of riding, and was it worth it?
Today’s weight: 162.2. Which I’m sure has nothing to do with all the bite-sized candy bars laying around the house, which should be Halloween candy, but which have a low probability of surviving to Halloween.
Bonus Office Entertainment: Apart from general pansiness, I had a motive for driving to work a couple days ago: I was bringing in a chinup bar, which I have installed in my office doorway. My idea is to do 3-5 chinups, several times per day, trying to improve my pathetic upper body strength. What’s fun, though, is watching other people eye the chinup bar as they go by. Some look at it briefly and dismiss it, some stop and test it, then walk away. So far, nobody has actually done a chinup on it. I am currently developing theories on why this is so.